Estate Planning & Probate
As Bellevue estate planning lawyers, we provide Washington clients with experienced estate planning guidance concerning asset preservation and distribution, tax minimization, and healthcare and related directives in the event of incapacity. By understanding the needs of each client, we can provide the right instruments that will best accomplish their objectives.
Bellevue & Eastside estate planning lawyers providing services related to wills, trusts, and probate issues.
Understanding Your Unique Estate Planning Needs
Each person’s estate, family matters, and distribution wishes are unique. We meet with clients to learn about their circumstances and then develop an estate plan to accomplish their objectives in a tax-efficient manner. Ultimately, we help clients achieve peace of mind knowing that their assets will be distributed in accordance with their wishes, and that their interests will be protected if they become incapacitated.
Wills and Trusts – Do I Need a Trust, or Is a Will Sufficient?
A Will is the legal instrument that sets forth how a person’s property is to be transferred upon death. A trust is a legal agreement that concerns the ownership and management of property held for the benefit of specified individuals or other parties both during the grantor’s life and after death. A trust may be revocable or irrevocable, and while a trust is not a Will, a Will can establish a trust on death. Both a Will and a revocable trust generally accomplish the same estate planning disposition scheme, but they reach the result by different methods. Each client’s unique circumstances will determine which method is best suited to him or her.
Because property held in trust is not owned by a person (but rather by the trust), trust property is not transferred by Will upon a person’s death, and generally is not subject to probate. Instead, property held in a trust continues to be managed in accordance with the trust agreement. Because an individual may own property that has not been transferred into a trust, a “pour over” Will should always be executed to address property that has not been transferred into the trust.
Trusts—whether incorporated into a Will or created as a separate instrument–can be particularly useful estate planning tools for those with large and complex estates (especially those that may be subject to estate taxation), and those who wish to have property controlled by a trustee for the benefit of others after death. As an example, a spendthrift trust is a trust created for the benefit of another (often a minor child or grandchild) whereby the amounts to be distributed to trust beneficiaries are limited until a later time (often a date at which the person attains a specified age).
Once we learn about the nature of a client’s estate and his or her distribution desires, we can advise whether a trust or a Will best suits a client’s needs.
Other Non-Probate Transfers
Some assets pass at death under beneficiary designations might not be subject to a will or trust. Life insurance, retirement accounts, and joint tenancy property are common examples. When developing an estate plan, we review these designations with our clients to help them integrate these assets into the overall plan. We also assist clients in understanding the tax and creditor protection consequences of beneficiary designations.
What Happens if I Die Without a Will?
When a person dies without a Will, the person is said to die “intestate.” Washington and all other states have statutes that prescribe how property is to be transferred when a person dies intestate.
These statutes do not take into account the wishes of the decedent. As a result, some people may inherit assets despite the decedent’s wishes to the contrary, while others, whom the decedent favored, may inherit nothing.
Of particular concern are those with children from prior marriages or persons who are involved in long-term (but not legally-recognized) relationships, who may inherit nothing if their partner dies. For these reasons, all adults should have a valid Will.
Providing Guidance to Help Clients Resolve Difficult Family Issues
We help clients identify the complete nature of their estate so that distribution decisions can be made. Frequently, clients need to consider sensitive family issues and relationships in determining who will receive testamentary distributions. In our role as legal counsel, we help clients address these matters so that they can make the decisions that are right for them.
Medical Powers of Attorney and Living Trusts
Comprehensive estate planning involves more than determining property inheritance; it also requires planning to take into account how personal affairs will be managed and healthcare decisions made in the event of incapacity. With proper planning for such event, court oversight is typically minimized, and significant legal expenses can be avoided.
We assist in drafting powers of attorney, healthcare directives, and other instruments that may be necessary in the event of incapacitation. These instruments are important, as without them it may be necessary to petition the court for guardianship or conservatorship in order to manage the financial affairs, medical care, and lifestyle needs of an incapacitated person, which can be costly and time-consuming.
Probate Representation and Assistance
In Washington, after a person dies, a person’s Will is admitted to probate, and a personal representative is appointed by the court. If the decedent designated a personal representative in his or her Will, such person will usually be appointed; if there is no Will or a personal representative has not been designated (or is unable to serve), a family member, relative, or another person having a close relationship to the decedent may seek such appointment.
Personal representatives have a wide range of duties, including accounting for, and taking measures to preserve, the assets of the estate, identifying and discharging from the estate all proper debts of the decedent, distributing assets in accordance with the decedent’s Will or applicable law (if there is no Will), and making final tax filings. We provide personal representatives with assistance and advice so they can fully discharge their fiduciary duties.
Often probate issues arise, such as how to handle assets that are not capable of division, such as if a family house is left to more than one person. When these unique matters arise, we provide advice about the options that may be available to the personal representative, and assist in the preparation of agreements to be executed by beneficiaries agreeing to the ultimate distribution.
Advanced Tax Degrees and Our Service to the Community
For clients who face a potential estate tax liability, we strive to create a comprehensive plan that utilizes all available credit and exclusions. We have attorneys who hold advanced Masters of Laws (LL.M.) degrees in taxation. We also have attorneys who serve as members of the University of Washington School of Law Advisory Board, serve on Boards of Directors for charitable non-profits or are members of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel.
Tax Planning and Business Succession
Individuals with taxable estates, especially where a closely-held business is part of the estate, have unique needs as well. With proper planning, business owners can often ensure that more assets go to loved ones and less to the government. Our attorneys assist in the transfer and disposition of family assets and businesses by offering a full range of estate planning techniques, including Wills, trusts, ante nuptial agreements, partnerships, limited liability companies, and buy-sell agreements. In addition to tax planning concerning estate distribution, we also provide tax advice regarding retirement savings and distributions, 401k plans, IRAs, and other qualified and nonqualified retirement plans, insurance annuities and trusts, which will ultimately affect a client’s estate.
Our Estate Planning services include:
- Advance Directives / Living Wills
- Charitable & Deferred Giving
- Estate Planning / Succession Planning for Business Owners
- Healthcare Directives
- Powers of Attorney
- Preparation of Wills & Trusts
- Probate Administration
- Representation of Executors & Trustees
- Tax Counsel & Planning
Practice Team Leader – John J. White